Next week, EU fisheries ministers will decide the majority of 2017 fishing quotas for the Northeast Atlantic. To end overfishing, they must follow the law and scientific advice to set quotas at sustainable levels.
But it is not easy to tell if ministers are doing this, because for most fish stocks there is a mismatch between the area covered by the fishing quota and the area covered by the scientific advice.
ClientEarth scientist Jenni Grossmann said: “The mismatch makes it very hard to tell whether ministers have followed scientific advice to set sustainable fishing quotas, as required by law.
“Most of the issues could be remedied by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers through greater transparency around how fishing quotas are set, and the data and analyses underpinning them.
“Reliable comparisons between the agreed fishing quotas and the advised catch limits are crucial to check whether European fisheries are being managed sustainably.”
The mismatch means the numbers cannot be directly compared without additional information, but this is normally not publicly available. ‘Quota top-ups’ (for catches that used to be thrown back into the sea, but now have to be landed due to the discard ban) make it even more complicated.
Reporting on whether quotas are in line with the sustainable limits advised by scientists could help clarify the situation. Unfortunately, the often inconsistent conclusions of different reports by the European Commission, EU countries and stakeholders can add to the confusion.
ClientEarth is therefore calling on the Commission to provide the information needed to overcome these issues with the help of the scientific body which produces the catch advice, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).
Our recommendations cover improvements regarding transparency, mismatch, quota top-ups and reporting. These should be followed urgently so decision-makers can show that they are managing fisheries sustainably, and others can hold them to account when they fall short.
As these issues will not be solved before the EU fisheries ministers meet next week, we will pay even closer attention to whether they set fishing quotas at the right levels for stocks without mismatch and other issues. For now, they are our only clear indicators of progress – or lack thereof.